Tennis legend and women’s rights champion Venus Williams shared stories about her family, activism and tennis achievements at a lecture Tuesday night at Bud Walton Arena.
The event was the third and final of the UA Distinguished Lecture Committee’s 2021-2022 school year, with activist Gloria Steinem in November and “Queer Eye” star Tan France in February.
Along with holding seven Grand Slam singles championships and 14 Grand Slam doubles titles – along with her sister Serena – Williams is also an activist for equal pay for female athletes and founder of a tennis clothing line, EleVen.
Danyelle Musselman, a former sports reporter and wife of Arkansas men’s basketball coach Eric Musselman, moderated the lecture.
Williams discussed the pivotal role she played in closing the wage gap between men and women competing at Wimbledon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament, in 2007. She experienced the inequality when she first played the role of a teenager.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to play Wimbledon, and then I got there, and I was 16, and I got less than guys,” Williams said. “It’s a rude awakening.”
After nearly a decade of playing, Williams wanted to use her platform to advocate for a professional athlete, she said.
“I was talking loudly about how we’ve been paid unequally since tennis started,” Williams said. “It wasn’t an amateur sport, it became professional tennis in the ’60s. It was the ’60s, and then it was 2005 and we were still doing the same thing. What gives? ”
Williams’ efforts led Wimbledon to offer equal prize money to female champions in 2007. Williams is glad that no other young women will have to compete at Wimbledon, she said.
Fernanda Alcantara, a senior who has attended DLC events before and is not familiar with the history of Williams ‘tennis career, has learned more about Williams’ activism.
“She’s a strong woman of color who has used her platform as a professional athlete to inspire others and make the changes that need to be made for the next generation,” Alcantara said.
Musselman mentioned Williams’ many achievements as a tennis star and when asked if she was great at tennis.
“That’s interesting because I don’t think about greatness so much,” Williams said. “I think that we are all the same. What makes greatness is what you are willing to do. So, anyone’s greater is willing to do something exceptional. ”
Alcantara was impressed and probably by Williams’ answer, she said. She admired how Williams showed humility, but was still proud of her accomplishments.
Musselman also asked Williams how she defines her own success. Williams sees success as dependent on her level of happiness, not her breadth of achievements, she said. She thinks being content and pursuing what she loves is the most important thing.
The older she got, the more she developed Williams’ definition of success. At first, she was focused on winning, but she grew to value her well-being and happiness above all else.
“As I got older, I definitely developed that (philosophy),” Williams said. “It was also based on my family values. The small things are the most important. The small things are the big things. ”
Emily Tubbs, a junior, plays tennis with her friends for fun and attended lecture to hear Williams talk about the sport. She was inspired to learn all about Williams’ achievements, she said.
Tubbs learned about Williams’ history of women’s rights activism at the first time, she said. She admired Williams even more after hearing about her role in securing equal pay for female tennis athletes.
“I just think she does so much, and doesn’t do it all so well,” Tubbs said. “Her tennis career, her activism, her fashion line. She just puts everything in her, and it’s really inspiring. ”
Musselman also asked Williams, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, about college students for her advice.
“This is a moment right now where you’re learning to take care of yourself,” Williams said. “Take advantage of that opportunity – have fun, be young, but at the same time, learn to take care of yourself and those around you.”